The Ea­gle Hun­tress

THE EA­GLE HUN­TRESS, rated G, in Kazakh with sub­ti­tles, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Trained golden ea­gles have served Kazakh hun­ters of Mon­go­lia for a mil­len­nium, and ea­gle hunt­ing is a skill tra­di­tion­ally passed down from fa­ther to son. The Ea­gle Hun­tress, a breath­tak­ing doc­u­men­tary by producer and di­rec­tor Otto Bell and ex­ec­u­tive producer Daisy Ri­d­ley (Star Wars:

The Force Awak­ens) — who nar­rates — tells the story of a thir­teen-yearold girl named Aishol­pan Nur­gaiv. She lives in the Al­tai Moun­tains and is in­tent on be­com­ing the first fe­male in her fam­ily to be an ea­gle hunter. She learns from her fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, who say that the skill is not a choice but a call­ing. Her male fam­ily mem­bers — medal win­ners in com­pe­ti­tions and keep­ers of the hunt­ing tra­di­tion for 12 gen­er­a­tions — are cham­pi­ons of the tech­nique. The sup­port of Aishol­pan’s fam­ily is vi­tal. Her fa­ther is en­cour­ag­ing, as de­ter­mined to see her suc­ceed as she is her­self.

The Kaza­khs, a no­madic peo­ple, de­pend on the hunt for their food. Their re­la­tion­ship to the land and the an­i­mals is one of re­spect and sym­bio­sis. They hunt fox for their fur and larger game for sus­te­nance. The ea­gles, Ri­d­ley tells us in nar­ra­tion, are caught when young and set free “to con­tinue the cir­cle of life” af­ter a pe­riod of seven years of ser­vice. The Kaza­khs in­habit a harsh, un­for­giv­ing land­scape in a cold moun­tain­ous re­gion of Mon­go­lia; Aishol­pan’s train­ing in this wild ter­rain takes courage, and hers is a mov­ing, tri­umphant story of girl power. “Girls can do any­thing boys can do if they try,” she says. Her fa­ther be­lieves she can be the equal of any man. Her grand­fa­ther gives his bless­ing and en­cour­age­ment on the day she re­ceives her first ea­glet, the bird she’ll train to be her hunt­ing com­pan­ion.

The Ea­gle Hun­tress is a mov­ing doc­u­men­tary por­trait that bal­ances an in­ti­mate look at Kazakh fam­ily life and cul­ture with in­cred­i­ble aerial shots by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Si­mon Ni­blett. The footage of vast tree­less val­leys, with rap­tors soar­ing from the clifftops over the sweep­ing Mon­go­lian steppes and re­turn­ing to their mas­ter’s arms, is beau­ti­ful and dra­matic. It takes strength to bear the weight of a land­ing ea­gle on one arm and stamina to hunt in tem­per­a­tures as low as 40 de­grees be­low zero. Aishol­pan com­petes suc­cess­fully against her male coun­ter­parts, but her real test comes far from home, on a long, dan­ger­ous hunt with her fa­ther. The in­ti­mate, lov­ing re­la­tion­ship of fa­ther and daugh­ter is at the film’s heart. Theirs is an ex­em­plary tale of chal­lenges to so­cial con­ven­tion and brav­ery against the odds. It’s a feel-good movie for all ages, and a pow­er­ful mes­sage for young girls ev­ery­where.

— Michael Abatemarco

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Ea­gle eye: Aishol­pan Nur­gaiv

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